The nation's emerging environmental calamity threatens to overshadow -- and undermine -- its phenomenal development.
A woman picks through garbage next to a graveyard in Hyperabad / AP
When I first moved back to India, in the winter of 2003, after more than a decade in America, I never thought I would live in the countryside. My wife and I had been living in New York; we liked the energy, the nightlife and variety, of a big city.
We quickly discovered, though, that Indian cities were unlivable--crowded and noisy and polluted, they were no place to raise a family. So we decided to stay, with our two boys, in the countryside outside the South Indian town of Pondicherry, the area where I had grown up.
We liked our new life. The countryside had its rhythms; it made us feel safe, far from the chaos of urban India.
Summers were dry and quiet, with a hot wind that emptied roads and public spaces. Winters were wet and then cool, monsoon downpours followed by a clear, clean light.
The familiarity, the predictability, were comforting. Everything else in India was moving so fast; in the countryside, seasons at least stayed constant.
Then one April the summer wind brought with it an unfamiliar guest: the smell of burning plastic. It started on a Sunday afternoon, a hint of bitterness, like something rotten in the air. I barely noticed. A couple days later my wife woke me in the middle of the night and said something was burning. This time the bitterness was unmistakable, a chemical taste in my mouth, a trail of roughness along my constricted throat.